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Schmidt's men must perform like warriors

Despite the huge home crowd predicted at Aviva Stadium tomorrow, this back-to-back game against French visitors Clermont is still a very difficult one to call.

Teams know that winning at home is essential if they are to eventually qualify out of their groups, but after last weekend's battle this Leinster team is now severely bruised and beaten. They will have to win on one leg against a team that has serious designs on adding European silver to its already impressive war chest.

Years ago, it was often said of the French teams in the Heineken Cup that they didn't travel particularly well, but Clermont's head coach, Vern Cotter, has set about giving this Clermont side a much tougher edge.

Disappointment

The tough-talking Kiwi has often expressed his disappointment at Clermont's perceived inability to win away from home, while at the same time being nigh on unbeatable on home soil.

Cotter wants consistency in Clermont's game, and he also knows that if he wants his club to dine at the top table of European rugby, alongside the likes of Toulouse, Leicester, Munster and Leinster, then his team must deliver on the road.

Clermont have already showed that they have prospered under Cotter's philosophy. In 2008, and reduced to 14 men, they still could have won in Thomond Park.

They certainly should have won in The RDS last year, when they bullied Leinster up and down the park and still lost, simply because their usually reliable goal kicker Brock James couldn't kick snow off a rope that day.

Last week, a heroic Leinster side came within a Shane Jennings double movement of at least drawing the game. But a "should have, would have, could have" philosophy counts for nothing at this level. Leinster still lost the game and this is a whole new challenge.

At least this is a Leinster team that believes in its own ability, its coach and its game plan.

Out-half Jonny Sexton passed a massive 86pc of the ball he received last week as Leinster launched wave after wave of counter-attack. Even in the last play of the game, and at risk of losing their hard-earned bonus point, their first thought was to attack and press for a draw.

In what will probably be a similar game to last year's at The RDS, Leinster will find Clermont particularly physical up front, and it is there where their real battle lies.

It is all very well calling on the prodigious talents of young Dominic Ryan off the Leinster bench (who made some stunning try-saving tackles) but Clermont still have a lot more grunt and experience to call on.

Just look at the likes of international superstars Mario Ledesma, Elvis Vermeulen, Kevin Senio and Benoit Baby, to name but a few.

As Bill Cullen might say on The Apprentice, Leinster need warriors this weekend. Unfortunately, many of Leinster's warriors are patched together with duct tape, and in desperate need of a week or two of rest.

Last week, Leinster's bright young things Fergus McFadden, Eoin O'Malley and Sean O'Brien were brilliant, but that was helped by Clermont not knowing too much about them -- especially centre O'Malley who more than made up for his lack of physique with his dancing feet.

Cotter and his management team will not make that mistake again, and will have more respect for the young Blackrock prodigy.

Foolish

As good as O'Malley was last week, it is foolish to suggest that O'Driscoll would not come straight back in because, even at 50pc fit, O'Driscoll is world class and a key defender.

Schmidt got his selection pretty much spot on last week.

Scrum-half Isaac Boss brought a much-needed physicality to the game, and always challenged the Clermont backrow.

McFadden, O'Brien and O'Malley excited with ball in hand, while Leo Cullen and Nathan Hines grafted in the engine room.

Once again, tight head Mike Ross posed the question of who he has upset at the highest level, with another display that keeps the scrum solid and moving forward.

This is a must win game for Leinster and injured or not they have to give it everything.

Leinster by a whisker.


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